The Integration Guide to Projectors and Screens

October 12, 2017

This Integration Guide was sponsored by Optoma as a supplement to Residential Systems, October 2017.

In a consumer landscape dominated by bigger, brighter, sharper, flat-panel televisions, you might wonder where projectors and projection screens might find a home. Long the preferred choice for consumers looking for a more cinematic experience, projectors and screens have, and continue to, dominate the high-end home theater market and have given many a family room wider viewing options.

Driving current sales in this category is the fact that, while wildly popular, flat-panel TVs are still limited by their size and concurrent cost; the world’s largest television to date is reportedly the 262-inch C Seed 262, which cost more than half a million dollars excluding installation. For consumers looking for a large-screen entertainment system, the projector and screen combo becomes more attractive and cost effective when looking at screen sizes above 75 inches.

Stewart Filmscreen’s Balón Borderless projection screen

“For dedicated theaters, there is simply no other option for the size and (aspect ratio) flexibility of a front projector,” noted Residential Systems contributing editor Michael Heiss, of M. Heiss Consulting. “In more conventional rooms, flat panels will dominate, but over 75 inches, the price of a [projector] and screen win out.”

Todd Anthony Puma, owner of The Source Home Theater in the New York area, agreed, citing two main drivers for two-piece projection: theater rooms and multipurpose room aesthetics.

“Theater rooms are obvious, and clients immediately think of projectors when they are building a theater,” Puma explained. “Where we see great opportunity is in the living room or multipurpose room in the home, especially in homes with a very modern or very traditional aesthetic, where having a TV on the wall would be distracting or incongruous. A discreet projector installation with a recessed, motorized screen has made many designers and homeowners extremely happy. They not only keep their aesthetic clean, but get a huge “Wow!” factor.”

However, many integrators who specialize in home theater and media room installations have noticed a dip in requests for projection systems. Blame for this disruption in the category is squarely placed on the increased affordability and convenience of large flat panels as well as their technological advantage at handling ambient light and HDR content better.

“Big screens dominate our residential mid-market on the east coast,” said Heather Sidorowicz, owner of Southtown Audio Video in Buffalo, NY. “The dedicated four-wall room for a theater is a rare find these days. Instead, we are observing more multipurpose rooms and game rooms. Sixty-five inches and above have become the choice size as the main TV as projector sales have diminished. Don’t get us wrong, we love a good theater, but we believe in the right solution, and more often these days that solution is a large panel instead of a projection system.”

Custom Theater and Audio’s John Sciacca has had a similar report for his Myrtle Beach, SC, business, where high water levels are a factor in preventing the installation of ideal home theaters.

“In our area in Myrtle Beach, we have a very high-water table, so homes don’t have basements that can be converted to theater rooms,” Sciacca explained. “Also, many of our customers purchase lots for oceanfront views, with lots of windows and glass, and they don’t like the idea of having to black out the room to make projection work. For these issues, when we are selling a projection system, it is usually because the client wants to go with a screen larger than 100 inches and have it in a dedicated light-controlled room. We have done a few projects with Screen Innovations Black Diamond when they are going in a multipurpose room, and those have turned out successfully.”

A Matter of Choice

Beyond the larger screen surface, there are still opportunities and advantages to using a two-piece projection system for home viewing. Laser projectors, long the preferred choice among commercial integrators are now finding their way into the residential market because of their longer lamp life, better picture quality, and steadily dropping price point.

“It is exciting to see laser projectors in the [residential] market as we have been using them almost exclusively on the commercial side for the past year,” Sidorowicz said. “Laser projectors will provide less maintenance for the end user with an unsurpassed picture. Laser units solve simple issues such as bulb warm-up time. These small annoyances can be what drives a client away from a projection system in the first place.”

Projector manufacturers also have been the greatest champions of 4K, which serves as the new gold standard for video quality, especially as Netflix and Amazon streaming continues to dominate the content world.

“We typically offered a mix of JVC and Sony projectors, but mainly because the Sony 4K model was priced close to $10,000, which was out of the budget of a lot of clients,” said Sciacca of his preferred projection installation products. “However, since Sony introduced the new sub-$5,000 model at CEDIA, we will probably focus on Sony projectors from $5,000 and up. We have used some Epson models in the past when we needed a lot of light output, as the Epsons offer high-lumen models that can work well in multipurpose rooms. We use different screens based on the budget and needs, but have been using the Dragonfly offered by SnapAV as we get free shipping and the company is located close to us and the customer service provided by Snap is terrific.”

Late last year, Sidorowicz’s Southtown Audio AV team was hired to integrate a dedicated 4K home theater for a client. Using a Roku player for access to 4K content, Sidorowicz’s crew was able to meet the client’s requests and then some.

“The client understood 4K and had the budget for a 4K projector,” Sidorowicz said of the project. “Of course, the issue became how to get 4K content at the time. We went with a Roku player. Today we have more options with 4K Blu-ray players, but content is still meager. The screen we used was motorized so that the younger kids could use the theater as a stage as well. Asking questions, such as children’s ages, ensures the overall family needs are met and what wins long-term relationships.”

More often than not, it is simply a client’s choice to go with projection system to enhance the overall viewing experience. “Netflix and chill” has entered the cultural lexicon for its funny, yet true, nod to the way many of us now view movies and television programs. But while a large swath of consumers is fine with watching Stranger Things on a tablet, the cinema experience still has a certain cachet that keeps many commercial theaters in healthy business.

Digital Projection’s E-Vision Laser 5000

“We had a client who is a huge sports fan and wanted to have an awesome experience watching his favorite teams at home,” said Puma of a recent multipurpose room project taken on by The Source Home Theater team. “It was an apartment in Brooklyn, so there was no man-cave or dedicated theater. The living room had to work not just for the kids, but for his sports viewing as well. With some windows along the side of the room and open kitchen on the other side, we used a Screen Innovations Zero-G Slate screen, paired with an Epson 6040 UB projector. The client couldn’t be happier and has already hosted several game nights at his apartment.”

State of Play

Even with short-throw projectors and high-gain screens giving two-piece projection a fighter’s chance in high ambient-light rooms, for instance, what chance does a two-piece projector system have against the growing might of the flat-panel television? The scene may not be as “David versus Goliath” as it seems, but acknowledging reality is never a bad thing. History has shown that there is a market for legacy approaches to home entertainment even as the market shifts.

“I think if/when flat panel sets get to be around $10,000 for a 100- to 120-inch size, you will see it really take a massive bite out of the projector market,” Sciacca predicted. “Very few people buy a projector for the sake of loving a projector; they buy a projector because it is by far the most cost affordable solution to getting a big screen experience. When that dollar-to-inch ratio changes, people will go with the flat panel almost every time.

“A big flat panel is easier/cheaper/faster to install, doesn’t require a projector hanging off the ceiling, is way brighter, doesn’t have issues with ambient lighting, has better contrast, isn’t reliant on a specific screen material to produce its best image, and doesn’t have a lamp/bulb to replace,” he continued. “The projector will always own the high end of the market, where screen sizes are needed in 150-plus inches, or where multiple aspect ratios are needed for showing a variety of film and TV content, but for the person looking to get a large screen experience, a big flat panel will be the way to go when pricing gets to that $10,000 level.”

There will be a crossover period as Sciacca noted above, where the two camps are shored up and firmly established. In the case of two-piece projection, while flat panels might begin to outpace the desire for the projector and screen experience, there will always be a segment of the population who will want that for their home.

“We see the greatest growth in two-piece projection with the customers who value aesthetics, size and/or wow factor,” noted Puma. “Our easiest conversion is a client who doesn’t want to see a screen on the wall, but wants a big image and a great viewing experience. Those clients jump at the two-piece solution, and their designers are very happy as well.”

Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.

PROJECTORS & SCREENS VIEWPOINT

AS FLAT SCREEN DISPLAYS CONTINUE TO CAPTURE A LARGER SHARE OF THE MARKET, WHAT FUTURE DO YOU SEE FOR PROJECTORS? HOW CAN THIS SOLUTION STAND ALONGSIDE LARGE DISPLAYS IN THE HOME?

BRIAN SOTO, HEAD OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, OPTOMA TECHNOLOGY

Projectors provide the highest quality home entertainment and home theater experiences, inch for inch, and there are myriad cost-effective, flexible solutions in the market that can easily be integrated with audio, gaming, streaming content, and more. This is an appealing value proposition, especially for younger audiences who are less interested in fixed, flat screen displays. As a leader in the consumer projection space, Optoma is focused on growing the market and making projectors more accessible to users. In this era of 4K content, flat panels can be cost-prohibitive and require a complex, labor-intensive installation to mount, especially as they become larger. On the other hand, projectors are extremely flexible and require little to no installation, producing high quality 4K images that are bigger and better, at a fraction of the cost. And as projectors continue to become mainstream through innovative design and affordable pricing, the appeal for home theater solutions will continue to grow.

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